Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Feast of the Nativity

I have just finished my last service for Christmas. Before I did anything else, I wanted to say Happy Christmas to all those who read this somewhat erratic blog. I appreciate your friendship and interest. I hope this Christmas will be a wonderful time for you and yours.

I will write more fully eventually.

Wherever you are, may the Babe of Bethlehem bless you.

Happy Christmas!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Saturday before Christmas

I woke up this morning with a real sense of panic. So much to do! Of course, much of the panic is self-induced. I hope it's for the right reasons - simply out of a desire to get it right. But there really is no need to panic. At least, that's what I keep telling myself.

My school services are now all over. I see these as so important. What we tell the children will - for good or ill - stay with them for the rest of their lives. At a time when schools in the Western World are abandoning the traditional Nativity in favour of seasonal plays, I keep reminding myself, when I am tempted to get fed up of yet another Nativity Play, of the incredible opportunity we have here.

You are soon brought down to earth, though. We have a burst pipe. Not that we knew about it until the water bill came. It is an underground leak and has been leaking water (and hence money) for a while. We have shut the water down, but it does create problems when there are so many people coming to Church. Have you any idea how often the first thing people say to you as a Vicar is, 'Where are the toilets?' I, personally, had no idea until I had to tell them they were out of use.

We have now rigged up a temporary supply, identified the problem, obtained quotes, and arranged for the work to be done early in the New Year - it's a big job! The headteacher of one of the Schools that come to Christ Church for their Christmas Service asked me how things were. I replied that they were fine apart from the leak. She said, 'Didn't you have a leak last year as well?' She was right, of course, we did have a leak last year.

It looks like a new tradition!

Hope you are all well and coping!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Hark! the Herald Angels Sing?

The weekend went smoothly - thankfully - and the Carol Service was surprisingly successful - not packed, but with a good feeling amongst those who were there.

I say 'surprisingly' because it has in past years felt a bit like this has been one service that was struggling to find its place in the diary against other services that were more popular.

Our Carol Service is a traditional 'nine lessons and carols service' (as in King's College traditional). In days gone by, it was very popular amongst the expats when, in the colonial period, Christ Church was half expat. It reminded people of home at a time of the year when we all get a bit nostalgic. As I have described in previous posts, Christ Church is now a local Church, that still welcomes expats, rather than being one that is dominated by them (with the exception ironically of the Vicar). The Carol Service has not been popular with many local people compared to our other Christmas services.

So why continue it? Well, it is a nice service, but, more importantly, I continue it for those who are expats like me and for those others who like it. But, and it is a big but, I dislike just doing services because people like the form of them. They can easily become simply performances rather than services. For example, when I mentioned on Sunday the sermon I was going to preach at it to one regular, he said, 'Oh you intend to preach then!' Well, I do every year, but it shows how for some this service is primarily about singing. Nothing wrong with singing, but is that all there is to it?

I have been trying to turn the service it into a form of outreach. Not by changing the form of the service, but by trying to find the right group of people to invite to it. After all, it is non-threatening in its format, and it does give people on the fringes of the Church a gentle way into the fellowship at Christmas.

The interesting thing this year, however, was the number of people who came with family members who are studying or working abroad, but who have come back to Hong Kong for Christmas. It may be that I have only just noticed this phenomenon and have missed it in the past, but I don't think so!

So I am going to think about whether this is the way we can go in the future. In other words, to keep the format, but to publicize it as a service to which it is good to fetch your youngish adult family and to which you can invite your more anglicized friends.

My goal is to provide at Christmas services that appeal to people from different backgrounds. Now, you are probably thinking, 'Shouldn't you being do that all year round?'

Well no, I don't think I, or we, should.

Christmas is a time when we should be taking advantage of secular behaviour to preach the good news: that is, to capitalize on the fact that this is a time of the year when non-churchgoers will come to Church. This is also true of times like harvest, albeit to a lesser degree.

Normally, that is, on regular Sundays, I happen to think that services should be about worshipping God in the company of believers, not about preaching to unbelievers.

Of course, we should welcome unbelievers to the Church in as friendly a way as possible in the hope that, as St Paul puts it, they will fall down and acknowledge that God is with us. I emphatically don't think that we should tailor our worship of God to those who don't (yet) believe in him. Sadly, compromising worship in the name of being relevant and reaching out to those outside the Church seems to have become the order of the day.

It raises the question of whom the Church is for: is it for God or for the world? Naturally, if it is for God, we will also want to find ways to save the world. But if it is for the world, what place for God in a world that does not know him or who consciously rejects him?

The Carol Services continue with more services tomorrow and on Friday.

I'll keep you informed!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Countdown to Christmas

This weekend is a full one in the Church!

We decided to have our Sunday School Nativity Presentation and Carol Service on the Sunday coming. Our suspicion was that next week a lot of our congregation will be going away with the schools having finished. On top of this, many organisations are having their Christmas events this weekend. So starting tonight, there is something every moment of the weekend.

I don't know how many of you have seen Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip. It is my latest favourite series. Created by Aaron Sorkin, who created West Wing (a previous favourite), it stars Bradley Whitford from the West Wing and Matthew Perry, who played Chandler in Friends (another favourite!) It is about a television programme that does topical comedy, which is recorded live each week. Matthew Perry plays the programme's writer. In his office is a clock telling him how long he has until the next episode. That's pressure!

I sometimes feel a bit like this with sermons. It can be difficult coming up with a new sermon or two every week, especially sermons that actually say something and connect with the congregation. I always feel like it at Christmas. What to say that hasn't be said so much better by others so many times before? How to preach in a way that will mean something, especially to those on the fringes of the Church who only turn up at Christmas?

The pressure was getting to me last night as I still had no ideas, which was probably why I was awake at 4.00am in the morning trying to come up with something. Then suddenly out of the blue a few ideas came. I am not claiming divine inspiration for them - although I hope God had a part - or that they are particularly brilliant! I am just relieved that I have something to work with. With sermons, I find that once I have an idea, I am ok. There is still work to do researching and writing. But as long as the idea is there, I don't mind! Not, of course, that it guarantees a good sermon.

Last night, I was so worried that I would forget the ideas I had had that I got up and wrote them down! Now, of course, I feel relieved, but tired. At the risk of boring you, let me share them here and if you think them shallow or poor, please let me know. After all, Matthew Perry in Studio 60 has a whole team of writers to go over his ideas with!

For the Carol Service on Sunday, I am going to take up something that happened last week at the Girl Guide's Carol Service. I was giving a talk on the meaning of Christmas, when a little girl put her hand up and asked, 'What have Christmas trees to do with Christmas?' What indeed? Richard Dawkins, the celebrated atheist, has just described himself as a 'cultural Christian' who will be singing carols this Christmas. I think this should give me something to go on.

For the Sunday before Christmas, the fourth Sunday of Advent, we will be lighting the fourth candle on our Advent wreath: the pink one for the Blessed Virgin Mary. We have a Lady Chapel here at Christ Church. Sometimes people refer to it as the Ladies Chapel, thinking it has something to do with ladies in general, rather than Our Lady in particular. Is it any wonder? It just looks like a seating area at the moment. Apparently, it used to have a painting of Our Lady in it, but one Vicar, fearing the danger of too much reverence for Mary, took it down!

A parable perhaps of what we have done with Mary in the non- Roman Church? I will be taking up the verse: 'a sword shall pierce your own heart also' and talk about Mary's pain and ours.

Christmas night is always my favourite night of the year. Each year, however, I always feel I have not been able to do it justice. I doubt that this year will be an exception. Still, I am going to take up an article I read on the BBC news website, which described how companies, responding to consumer demand, are wanting to put pictures on radio. I know! Bizarre. But now we can watch anything, anywhere on our mobiles, it is perhaps to be expected. I love radio. The best Christmas present I ever got was a Bush radio on which I used to listen to the news each night before going to sleep.

You will know the old saying about 'radio having better pictures'. I think that's true, but we do need pictures. I think you can guess where I am going with this!

For the Christmas day Eucharist, I am still thinking. Any ideas out there would be gratefully received.

Anyway, to all those of you working hard in your preparation for communicating the good news: may God give you inspiration! And may you and I both be more concerned to be faithful rather than original. For after all has been said, it is the old, old story that we are trying to tell to a new audience. And for those of you who will be listening to us, spare a prayer for us that our ideas might be good ones.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Survived - I Think

Well, I am back from my Council meeting. I can never sleep after a Council meeting so a quick blog. I find Council meetings the most physically draining meetings of all meetings that I go to - and I go to a lot!

The Anglican Church is divided at the moment over the issue of homosexuality.

I'll do a swap.

I'll sort out issues of human sexuality if someone can sort out what flooring we have in our hopefully soon to be renovated Committee Room.

Any takers?
A Real Council

Well, having written about a fictitious Church Council meeting in the last post, today is the day of my own Church Council meeting. I never particularly look forward to them. I know how even a seemingly innocent and uncontroversial agenda can suddenly become anything but. We have one or two issues tonight that have the potential to be, if not controversial exactly, then certainly the subject of disagreement. Handling disagreement is not something we always do very well as Christians.

I know some Vicars who rather like confrontation and controversy. I am not one of them. Paul tells us to stop quarrelling and to be of one mind. That's how I see my role as Chairman: to stop people quarrelling and to help everyone reach a common mind. What if they can't or won't though?

My fictional counter part in the Archers intends to deal with the disagreement on his Council by having a vote on the issue in question. Very democratic and all that, but it is not exactly reaching a common mind just giving into one side's mind. I can't help feeling that this is not the way Christians should decide things. I make a point to avoid votes whenever possible.

The trouble is that this can mean that sometimes decisions aren't taken and that the minority can hold things up.

I'll let you know how it goes tonight.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

A Postponed Decision

Well, they didn't decide after all (see previous post). Too many people sent their apologies so they did not have a quorum to take a vote. I have to say this seems very unlikely. The script writers have done well so far in capturing the opinions and feelings on both sides of this issue, but they simply do not get it in this episode. One thing I know for certain is that on an issue like this people will turn up to vote.

They may not come to a Bible Study or Prayer Meeting, but suggest change of this nature and they care passionately. To the outsider, indeed, to some insiders, it can seem very petty. One character in the programme last night expressed the views of many when he said, 'typical of the Church, there's war, disease, and starvation in the world and they worry about the pews'.

This is, of course, hypocrisy of the worse kind. I know of very few people who don't spend a great deal of time and money on their homes, decorating and furnishing them. Are they too to be blamed for not caring about world hunger? Businesses spend huge amounts of money on offices and showrooms and no-one bats an eyelid. Let's get real about this.

Churches, for all their faults, do care about world poverty, disease, and death, but that does not mean that we have to abandon all concern about the buildings we worship God in. Indeed, Alan, the Vicar in the Archers, although I don't agree with him, wants to remove the pews so he make his church more available to the local community. That's why the pew issue is important to him. I think there are other issues to take into consideration that's why it is important to me. But I will be doing all I can to help those around me who are in need this Christmas and so will the Church in general.

One thing I love doing on holiday is visiting church buildings and cathedrals. These often took hundreds of years and masses of resources to build. Was the Church wrong to build them?

I don't think so.